Bluegrass Odyssey: A Documentary In Pictures And Words 1966-1986
Bluegrass may have been born on the stage of the Grand Ole Opry, but it grew to adulthood in a complicated setting, sustained by audiences found in country music parks, urban hillbilly dives, and — especially after the mid-1960s — festivals devoted to the music. All of these and more may now be seen — and, thanks to Neil Rosenberg’s text, understood — in this remarkable book.
Less than a history but more than a simple collection of Carl Fleischhauer’s sturdy, purposeful photographs, Bluegrass Odyssey is an indispensable addition to even the most rudimentary bluegrass library. The selection of Fleischhauer’s black-and-white shots — more than 200 of them — catch the famous and little-known alike, onstage and behind the record table, at jam sessions in living rooms and storefronts, greeting fans and visiting with one another, in moments of outward performance and inward contemplation.
Were the photos published by themselves, the book would be still be stunning, with informative, entertaining and evocative pictures that both stand on their own and add up collectively to a well-rounded, essential visual survey of the bluegrass world during two key decades in its 50-year history.
One page catches the legendary Red Allen and two of his sons onstage in Columbus, Ohio, in 1968; another catches Ken Irwin and Marian Leighton of Rounder Records selling their wares out of a VW microbus in 1973; yet another shows Sonny Osborne and Marty Stuart sharing a joke at an Ohio festival the following year. Bill Monroe, Keith Whitley, Jim & Jesse, Jimmy Martin, Lester Flatt, the Country Gentlemen — all are here, and so too are folks you never heard of, a fascinating array of musicians, fans and people involved in shaping the world of bluegrass.
Rosenberg’s text is thoughtful and historically informed, but it’s also informal and personal, forming an exceptionally appropriate companion to the images. Readers seeking a detailed history of bluegrass will have to look elsewhere (though not too far; Rosenberg’s Bluegrass: A History comes from the same publisher), but for insight into how it looks and what it feels like, seek no further.